Handel, George Frederick (1685-1759), English musician, was born at Halle in Saxony on February 23rd, 1685. His real name was Georg Friedrich Handel. His father, who was a surgeon, at first discouraged his taste for music, but the boy's genius was too strong to be repressed, and, when he was seven or eight years old, his education was entrusted to Zachau, the Halle organist. At the age of nine he had already begun to compose, and could play the organ, violin, and other instruments. In or about 1696 he was sent to the court of Berlin, where his performances attracted the notice of the Elector of Brandenburg.
His musical studies were continued after his father's death (1697), and in 1703 he proceeded to Hamburg, where he played second violin in the opera orchestra. His first Passion, produced in 1704, was followed in January, 1705, by Almira, his first opera. The years 1706-10 were passed in Italy, where he visited Florence, Rome, Naples, and Venice, performing everywhere with marked success, and composing Rodrigo (1709) and other operas. After a short stay in Hanover he came over to England in 1710, and in the following year his Rinaldo was produced at the Queen's theatre, Haymarket. He was recalled to his duties as kapellmrister at Hanover, but in 1712 he returned to England, which henceforward became his adopted home. By 1715 his services to English music had become so marked that he was granted a pension of £200, subsequently increased to £600.
In 1720 the Royal Academy of Music was established at the Haymarket, and placed under Handel's management. This enterprise came to a close in 1726, but in 1729 the theatre was taken by Handel and Heidegger, and the performances were continued. The high position taken by Handel roused the jealousy of Buononcini and other Italian composers. He himself took little pains to conciliate his opponents, and a rival company was started, under the patronage of "the nobility," which, in 1734, succeeded in ousting him from the King's theatre. Subsequent ventures at Lincoln's Inn and Covent Garden both ended in failure, and Handel's financial losses so preyed on his mind that his health gave way, and even his mind was temporarily affected. His mental and physical vigour were re-established by a visit to Aix-la-Chapelle. This catastrophe marks the close of the first period of Handel's career. Henceforward he abandoned opera, and devoted himself entirely to the composition of sacred music, the field in which he was to earn lasting renown. His previous efforts in this direction had been confined to Esther, an oratorio composed before 1720, and a few anthems. The year 1739 witnessed the production of Saul and Israel in Egypt. The Messiah was performed at Dublin in April, 1742, and soon afterwards in London. It was followed by Samson (1743), Judas Maccabceus (1746), composed in honour of the victory of Culloden, Joshua, and Solomon (1748). A large part of the wealth acquired by Handel at this period was given by him to the Foundling- Hospital. In 1750 he visited the Continent, and soon afterwards composed his last oratorio, Jephthak. He now became almost entirely blind, but he continued his Lenten oratorio concerts, and played the organ at the performance of the Messiah eight days before his death, which took place on April 14, 1759. He was buried in the Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey. Handel's outward appearance was not attractive. His manners were boorish and his temper overbearing, but this rough exterior concealed a heart full of benevolence and generous feeling. His reputation is not likely ever to suffer any diminution. It is based on his great oratorios, and especially the Messiah and Israel in Egypt, and the enthusiasm shown at the Handel Festivals bears testimony to the hold which he still exercises over the English public.